China says its Mars rover is in “excellent condition” after completing the 90-day program

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China’s Mars rover Zhurong moves on after it completes its first program of exploring the red planet and finding frozen water, which could provide clues as to whether it once supported life.

China’s National Space Agency announced on its website on Friday that Zhurong completed its 90-day program on August 15 and was in excellent technical condition and fully charged.

It said it will continue exploring the area known as Utopia Planitia, where it landed on May 14. Zhurong has regularly sent back photos and data via the Tianwen-1 orbiter, which crosses it once a day.

After the USA, China is the second country to land and sustainably operate a space probe on Mars, where the days are 40 minutes longer than on Earth.

At 1.85 meters high, Zhurong is significantly smaller than the American rover Perseverance, which explores the planet with a tiny helicopter. NASA expects their rover to collect its first sample for return to Earth in July as early as 2031.

At the same time, China is building its permanent space station with three astronauts aboard the core Tianhe or Heavenly Harmony, which was launched on April 29th. Two of the astronauts completed their second spacewalk on Friday. All three are scheduled to return to Earth in September and be replaced by a new crew.

China previously launched two smaller experimental space stations. It was banned from the International Space Station largely at the insistence of the United States, which is wary of the secrecy of China’s space program and close military ties. Congressional approval is also required for any collaboration between NASA and the CNSA.

China also recently brought back lunar samples, the first in any country’s space program since the 1970s, and landed a probe and rover on the lesser-explored far side of the moon.

China first put an astronaut into orbit in 2003, making it only the third country to do so.

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